‘Greenleaf’ Star Merle Dandridge on the New OWN Network Show

Merle Dandridge
Patrick James Miller

Merle Dandridge got her first professional acting job when she was 20, and has been working ever since. The American actress, born in Japan, stars in the OWN Network’s “Greenleaf” alongside Lynn Whitfield and Keith David. Dandridge spoke with Variety about big changes in her life — and in the world.

What was your big break?

It was a couple of months out of college when I got my first tour on “Smokey Joe’s Café.” I was the swing, which means I covered all of the female roles, so I had to be disciplined. It was kind of like a boot camp — always being prepared for anything that might come up. It’s the hardest job, but it’s also a really great way to learn.

“Greenleaf” is a departure from your previous work.

It’s been a very different experience for me, sitting right in the heart of the main storyline as a lead. Fortunately, I have the masters all around me: Keith David, Lynn Whitfield, Oprah Winfrey, and Greg Alan Williams. It’s been the acting dream I’ve always aspired to.

What shifts would you like to see in the industry?

Being good at what you do, rather than how many followers you have. I think social media, and a lot of those kinds of things, has been made the focus, and kind of moved the work ethic aside.

Has technology had any positive affects?

How accessible everyone is. I like to completely unplug, but at the same time staying connected keeps your loved ones so much closer. On the flip side, everyone can know what’s going on with you. It’s surprisingly more intimate but also less.

What app do you like?

Duolingo. I love it. It’s an app that will ping you every day to remind you to do your five minutes of language training. I’m trying to keep my French sharp. Also Korean; it’s in my spirit but I don’t speak it anymore —  only when I was young. It’s nice to keep languages going through your life and your heart.

What you didn’t know about Dandridge

FIRST TASTE OF FAME: Being flown to New York to audition for “Rent” FIRST RECURRING TV ROLE: “All My Children” FAVORITE TECHNOLOGY: Apple Music and Spotify HOW SHE CHANNELS HER INNER WARRIOR: Voices Alyx Vance in the “Half-Life 2” video games

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